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Real Enough

Over the past four decades, Nina Kiriki Hoffman has sold adult and young adult novels and more than 350 short stories. Her works have been finalists for the World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick, and Endeavour awards. Her novel The Thread that Binds the Bones won a Horror Writers Association Stoker Award, and her short story "Trophy Wives" won a Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Award. Nina does production work for the The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She teaches writing classes through Wordcrafters in Eugene and Fairfield County Writers' Studio. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. For a list of Nina's publications, check out: ofearna.us/books/hoffman.html.

Sitting on the fence between dreams and reality, Annie peered into the swirling storm of other people's nighttime imaginations, looking for her mother, who had died eleven years earlier. Sometimes they managed to connect in dreams, although Annie wasn't sure if it was Real Mom or a Mom from her imagination.
Annie hadn't asked Dream Mom questions Annie didn't know answers to and Real Mom might. She had enjoyed her encounters with Dream Mom, who was free of the dementia that had claimed Real Mom's last six years. Sharp, sometimes cutting, always opinionated and bossy, Dream Mom had given her good advice about moving into the retirement community of manufactured homes on the edge of a small lake. Annie lived in a house free of history now, clean of memories of the abusive husband who had made her life so difficult. Here in her new home, she reconnected with all the artistic pursuits Morton had beaten out of her. She was painting watercolors again, and gathering with musicians on her back patio.
And she had found someone to love.
Carola squeezed her hand. Annie remembered what she wanted to do tonight. "Mom?" she called into the maelstrom of spinning dream fragments--a train rolling across an arctic landscape being pursued by a shambling creature; bunnies driving a chariot pulled by chickens and lizards; a cafe full of creatures who weren't human--"Mom?"
"Use your heart string," Carola whispered from reality, and Annie remembered what Carola had told her about delving into the dreamlands and beyond, to where death took people. Carola said a cord stretched from Annie's heart to everyone she had loved and lost.
She touched her chest and stared out into the populated wilderness until she saw a red thread stretching from her heart into the dreams. She closed her hand around the thread and tugged on it. "Mom."
Dream Mom rode a brown-and-white pinto pony out of the midst of the dreams. "Annie," she said, and slid off the horse's back. "Thanks, Dawn Treader." Mom stroked the horse's face, then pulled an apple out of a pocket of her colorful muumuu and fed it to the horse. "Daughter, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm lovely. Mom, is that really you?"
Mom laughed the full-throated laugh Annie hadn't heard in years. It had only happened once a year or so, when Mom could rise from her misery and enjoy something wholly. Annie's heart warmed. "It's me enough," Mom said. "How can I help?"
"Mom." Annie tugged on Carola's hand, pulling her astral self to the fence. "This is Carola. Yesterday I proposed to her, and she said yes."
"How wonderful!" said Mom. She kissed Carola. "Congratulations, Annie. Happiness at last."
Annie smiled through her tears. This couldn't be Real Mom. Real Mom wouldn't have been happy about Annie's choice.
Maybe Real Enough Mom was better.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, November 1st, 2021
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